Everyday Cooking

Jamie Oliver's Chicken in Milk

January 14, 2015

Every week -- often with your help -- Food52's Executive Editor Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that are nothing short of genius.

Today: A one-pot technique for the most tender roast chicken, with the most strangely appealing sauce.

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A chicken and a pint of milk in every pot! I admit it sounds a little off, like trying to cook by Mad Libs, but we should consider making it our new rallying cry for 2015.

The pairing is the basis of a famously simple technique from Jamie Oliver: He cooks a whole chicken slowly in milk, which results in a messy, meaty, caramel pile of chicken that's had the resistance simmered straight out of it. It will make you stop talking and tear in, however unpolished it may look. The Kitchn's Executive Editor Faith Durand called it the best chicken recipe of all time. I'm inclined to agree.

To make it yourself, you do little more than brown a whole chicken in a pot and then dump in five other things: milk, sage, cinnamon, lemon zest, and garlic. You will dirty approximately one pot, one peeler, one measuring cup, and one pair of tongs. The first part takes some mildly awkward maneuvering with the tongs, and the skin may tear in the process, but just bear in mind how rustic this thing is going to be by the end and don't stress. 



Baste only when you remember as it cooks down in the oven for an hour and a half -- it's a good excuse to spy on what it's doing and get better access to its uplifting smells. By the end, "the lemon zest will sort of split the milk, making a sauce which is absolutely fantastic," as Oliver writes in the recipe -- which is a charming way of saying the sauce will break, or curdle, without apology. This is good.

The word "curdled" is all mixed up in our heads -- it's what happens when milk goes off, yes, or when you're meant to scald milk and it suddenly turns into a clotted mess. But intentional curdling is also what's at work when you add lemon or vinegar to milk (or whey) to make fresh cheeses like ricotta or paneer. And it's what happens here, on purpose, all around your chicken. (Oliver isn't the least bit afraid of curds -- you might recall how lemon juice, olive oil, and cottage cheese swirl together in his oddly beautiful dressing for beet salad.)


What this does for the chicken is one thing: Braising tends to make meat more tender, especially the sort with taut joints and connective tissues that will melt under low, sustained heat. And braising in milk does so in an especially gentle, almost caressing way. "The lactic acid present in milk tenderizes the meat, making it juicy and sweet," Emiko Davies explained in her excellent article on the Emilia-Romagnan technique of braising pork in milk, made famous by Marcella Hazan.

But beyond this technical stroke of brilliance is one of artistry: Have you ever had sage, cinnamon, lemon zest, and garlic together in anything? (Google says: doubtful.) Is there any cuisine in the world where these flavors are routine, or just in the mind of Jamie Oliver? The cleansing brightness of lemon, the foresty thump of sage, the spicy heat of cinnamon and sharper edge of garlic are all dominating presences that, added carelessly, can take over. But here, defying their pushy natures, they keep each other in check and together make a sauce that seems to have a restorative, chakra-aligning sort of power.

More: Same technique, with a spiced coffee and orange brine.

Some of you will not want to listen, and will want the sauce to be smooth and refined. You can blend it, but frankly, scraping it all up to do so is a chore. Or, according to Cook's Illustrated, you can add a few tablespoons of fat to keep the sauce from curdling: "The fat molecules ... surround the casein clusters, preventing them from bonding," they say (which is why cream doesn't seize up the way milk does). But the added fat is unnecessary and, as most people will tell you, the curds are the best part, and the split sauce is actually the point. 

Serve the chicken with a starch that can benefit from a flavorful sauce -- mashed potatoes or grains or, simply, bread. A side of something green will straighten up your animal posture and brighten the plate. Spend a little time with this recipe and you'll be looking for more sauces to split, more ways to make chicken fall to pieces -- and you're in luck, because I have another one coming for you in a few weeks.

Jamie Oliver's Chicken in Milk

Adapted slightly from Happy Days with the Naked Chef (Hachette Books, 2002)

Serves 4

One 3-pound (1 1/2-kilogram) organic chicken
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 ounces (1 stick or 115 grams) butter or olive oil
1/2 cinnamon stick
1 good handful fresh sage, leaves picked
Zest of 2 lemons, peeled in thick strips with a peeler
10 garlic cloves, skins left on
1 pint (565 milliliters) milk

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected]. Thanks to Rona Moser for this one!

Photos by Bobbi Lin


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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Monte Mathews
    Monte Mathews
  • Gardener-cook
  • Ann
  • Monika
  • Jenny James
    Jenny James
I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


Monte M. April 26, 2017
I wrote extensively about how I loathed this recipe and how much better one by Richard Olney is. It is very much the same idea only a far better execution than Mr. Oliver's. If you'd like to see it, here's the link...http://www.chewingthefat.us.com/2015/04/a-tale-of-two-chickens-jamie-olivers.html
Gardener-cook April 26, 2017
I am a fan of the genius recipes, but not this one. The bland curdled sauce was not "strangely appealing" but just strange. There are so many better things to do with a chicken.
Ann April 25, 2017
I totally agree with Monika. This recipe is a huge disappointment, especially after all the hype. I found the flavors completely lackluster. I simply don't get the appeal.
Monika April 25, 2017
Firstly, it is not Jamie Oliver's recipe -- it is in a River Café cookbook -- he got it from Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray recipe when working at their River Café. It is a chicken version of the classic North Italian pork dish, Arrosto Di Maiale al Latte. I have tried making it several times over the years, but it never seems to impress. It turns out bland and ho-hum. With all the great reviews out there, I have always thought there must be something I am missing, something I am not doing right, but no. Maybe it works better with the original pork? There are so many more amazing chicken recipes that my family wants to eat instead -- Laurie Colwin's roast mustard chicken pieces (the best "fried" chicken ever!). Or chicken in Riesling. Or chicken with green olives and preserved lemons.
Gardener-cook April 26, 2017
I tried the Marcella Hazan version with pork, and it was just as uninteresting as the chicken.
Jenny J. April 21, 2016
I was excited to try this and followed it to the letter but the whole dish tasted like hand lotion. Just not to my taste, the whole combo of sage, lemon and cinnamon just grossed me out. I'm sure a sub of coconut milk would have helped some.
Vicki P. April 14, 2016
The good news is that the chicken was moist. I roasted it the first 45 min. covered based on my reading. The chicken had the gentle taste of garlic, cinnamon, and herbs. I couldn't taste the lemon. I find the look of the separated milk curd unappetizing so removed it to the extent possible. I strained the sauce twice to remove herbs and curd. I added a cup of sliced crimini mushrooms to the sauce and poached them until tender. It turned out to be a good sauce for the chicken. When I browned the chicken I used half olive oil and half butter. I used 2.5 cups of whole milk. The recipe is very easy to throw together and my friends all liked the finished product.
Karla February 28, 2016
Can this be made with a Perdue Oven stuffer roaster? or should I use a whole frying chicken? Has anyone made this with split parts of a chicken? ie, leg or breast quarters?
Monte M. February 28, 2016
I implore you to read this before you start this recipe...http://www.chewingthefat.us.com/2015/04/a-tale-of-two-chickens-jamie-olivers.html
Lynette M. January 4, 2016
Could you do this in a pressure cooker?
Monte M. January 4, 2016
I wouldn't cook it at all...I think it's particularly awful. This is especially true when I compared it to a very similar recipe from Richard Olney...here's a link to that one....http://www.chewingthefat.us.com/2016/01/chicken-breasts-with-tomatoes-and.html
Julie-Anne April 26, 2017
Haha! With the NY Times article the other day, I guess this is getting more comments. Came back to read them and checked out your blog entry. I do not think you're crazy for not liking it. I've made it 3 times now and the most recent time was more "eh" than the first two times, which somehow were tastier. I still like it, but agree it's not the "greatest chicken ever" and I can totally see how people would find it unappealing. Look forward to trying the Olney recipe!
Jonathan W. November 4, 2015
My mother made this recipe about 30 years ago but there was one difference instead of cinnamon she used Madagascan green peppers and it's dry cousin black pepper.
pidgeon92 October 7, 2015
I've been making this recipe for years, and just happen to have a chicken defrosting on this counter to make this very meal tonight. I've found that I need a bit more milk, so I use 12oz. I grate the lemon zest rather than use big strips, and then a slice the lemons and stuff a few sliced in the chicken, and leave the rest floating the in milk. I throw in all the cloves from the garlic bulb, and often toss in small potatoes and carrots to round out the meal.
Eva V. August 26, 2015
Although a fan of this recipe I much prefer The Kitchn's Asian twist on it: the milk is substituted by coconut milk and the herbs are also more Asiany (you know what I mean ;0)) http://www.thekitchn.com/recipe-coconut-milk-chicken-98547. Instead of the potatoes called for in the recipe I use pumpkin. It's fragrant, comforting and delicious.
Alla September 21, 2015
Totally agree! I tried both and much prefer the coconut milk variation.
zaini April 8, 2015
I wonder if this will appeal to an Indian.
Susan B. April 8, 2015
Can you use a lactose free substitute for the milk, or is it the sugar in the milk which is necessary?
Eva V. August 26, 2015
You need the lactic acid to soften the meat, but adding some other form of acid (lemon for example) will do the trick too.
lacrema February 16, 2015
I just made this the other day-- AMAZING! I added more garlic than called for and will probably do so again. We spread the cloves and the curds on sourdough baguette and served with lemon asparagus. SO easy and SO delicious!
Maryann January 28, 2015
I have been looking at this recipe for a while but for some reason was a little reluctant to try it. Stuck inside on a snowbound afternoon, I decided to try it. Because I had a 5.5 pound chicken, I upped the liquid content (I used 2 Cups of 2% Milk and 1 Cup of Half and Half) and added 5 more garlic cloves. I also added some thyme sprigs. The chicken came out great but the sauce did not look very appetizing. So I used my immersion blender and that took care of the eye appeal (or lack thereof). Right before serving, I added a couple of squeezes of fresh lemon juice and a tablespoon or so of sherry. A great and easy dinner!
kim January 27, 2015
Kris, upload the image to www.imgur.com, and then post the link here. Then we can see how it came out.
Kris S. January 27, 2015
I made the Chicken last night I used butter. Other than that I followed to a T. I would use twice as much sage next time. The meal was great I used the sauce on steamed Aspg. it blended very well. Curds looked a little odd but the taste was fine. I would post a picture but I don't think I can ?! Looked like a cookbook photo !! Oh yea the smell is heavenly !! I made mashed garlic dill potatoes as well.
Monte M. January 24, 2015
Dear Ann, I can't thank you enough for posting exactly how I felt after cooking this. And as you can see, I was a minority of one until you appeared. What do you think we did wrong?
nancy E. January 24, 2015
Not every pallet is the same. We don't all have to like something. I do not like truffles and green peppers. I can't stand kale. That's alright. I'm sure you made the recipe as it should be, it just was not to your liking.
nancy E. January 24, 2015
Ann January 24, 2015
Hi Monte,
Like you, I made the recipe exactly as written, which I almost always do the first time I make anything. I think partly it was the huge hype surrounding this recipe. The accolades were pouring in, so naturally I was expecting the moon. What I got was, IMHO, an okay dish. Will I make it again? Probably not. Do I regret making it? No. We are it and shared cold leftover chicken--NOT the sauce--the next day for lunch. Nothing on the bird wasted. As Nancy so correctly stated, just not suited to our palates.
Ann January 24, 2015
Ate it---sorry
Monte M. January 24, 2015
Ann, I think where we struggle here is that we start our adventure primed for "recipes that are nothing short of genius." Which is promised in the introduction and followed up with "The Kitchn's Executive Editor Faith Durand called it the best chicken recipe of all time." This is clearly one of the biggest cases of "Chacun a son gout" in history!
Ann January 24, 2015
I thought this recipe was just okay. Not Genius in my books. The chicken itself was, undeniably, tender and moist, but the sauce wasn't outstanding. I didn't find it bitter but I did think it was very unappealing looking. I know I'm in the minority here, but this just didn't do it for me. I'm a big Jamie Oliver fan, but not this time. Sorry.
Jane H. January 22, 2015
This was a fantastic recipe. The chicken was just absolutely delicious. The only change I made was that I browned the chicken in 1/2 stick of butter. Oh, I did use a whole cinnamon stick (about 3" long). (A note on the lemon zest...you must use a zester...pith of the lemon peel is bitter.)